Tunisia: New Tunisian film calls attention to inheritance law

A controversial new Tunisian movie calls attention to how Islamic law determines the distribution of inheritances between male and female heirs.
On the eve of the film's release, the director is facing criticism for raising the question of a daughter's rights.
A new movie from Tunisian filmmaker Kalthoum Bornaz is stirring debate for raising the controversial issue of inheritance law and how it may highlight inequality between men and women.

The director has been accused of differing with sharia. Bornaz countered that she did not create Shtar Mahaba (half the love) to create sedition or cast doubts on the Qur’anic verse that explains inheritance and its distribution among male and female heirs.

"I am not into politics or Islamic jurisprudence," said Bornaz. "I am a filmmaker and an artist. I only want to discuss the issue of inheritance from a humane and social perspective."

Before she started filming, Bornaz said, she talked to several attorneys and Muslim scholars, even those who are known for extremism.

"The issue is controversial in Tunisia and no one dared to discuss it in cinema," she told Magharebia. "I am aware there is an official bill that urges to enforce equality between genders in inheritance."

The movie depicts Selim and Selima, twins whose mother died during childbirth. While growing up, Selima learns that under the law, a girl’s share of an inheritance is only half that of her brother.

Selima, confused by this law, asks her father whether the reason for such a disparity is that parents love their daughters half as much as they love the sons. The father--French educated and influenced by Marxism--tells her that the issue is clearly decided in the Qur'an and the law. When the father dies, the brother distributes the inheritance according to sharia. Selima's fate is left unknown in the movie.

"It is against wisdom, sharia and humanism to deprive a girl of the legacy she is entitled to just because she is a woman," actress Sihem Mseddek, who played a role in the film, told Magharebia. She added that she knew many men who agreed on distributing their inheritance evenly with their sisters.

According to scriptwriter Mohamed Raja Farhat, women in Islamic societies are still at the forefront of social, economic, development and intellectual tragedies. The movie just calls attention to an existing issue.

"What wrong have we done for bravely introducing women’s issues and unravelling their hidden problems?" asked Farhat.

"The fact that the issue is not debatable from a religious point should not forbid us from discussing it from a humane and social perspective," he added. "Should intellect be shackled if fundamentalists were enraged?"

The movie is listed on the Carthage Film Festival's official list to be screened soon. People involved in the industry predict harsh criticism by fundamentalist currents.

Khadija Sherif, head of the Tunisian Association for Democratic Women (TADW), said that two years ago the association managed to collect thousands of signatures on a petition calling for gender parity regarding inheritances. The Association is still pursuing the cause.

Although the association got support for the cause from leftist parties, it faced strong opposition from conservative religious groups. Detractors called inheritance equality "a violation of the Qur’anic verse and the Sharia laws".

Tunisians themselves disagree on the issue.

Seham Al Majri, a student in her twenties, said that inheritance "is an issue that should be codified by overcoming the religious conflicts, which can only be done through the Ijtihad of Muslim scholars".

"Inheritance is a family affair and no one should have anything to do with it," commented Amal bin Brahim, a merchant in her forties.

"Families know best the interest of their children. Therefore, there is no need to debate the issue religiously or legally," she added.

By Jamel Arfaoui for Magharebia in Tunis - 08/10/08

Source: http://www.magharebia.com/cocoon/awi/xhtml1/en_GB/features/awi/features/2008/10/08/feature-01